Thursday, April 23, 2015

Testing - the reason why most teachers drink

As the song goes, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”

It’s not, really.  Frankly, it’s the worst.  I’m talking about testing time, the dreaded T for education and the A-Z blog challenge.  Before you think I’m about to go off on a rant about standardized testing and how awful it is, let me assure you that I am, but not in the way you think. 

Students don’t like taking standardized tests and think the tests are a special sort of torture designed by teachers who love to see kids suffer.  I’ve had many a student tell me, “You don’t know what it’s like, Ms. Marlowe!”  As a graduate of public education myself, yes, I do know.  In fact, anyone with a high school degree and under the age of 50 has spent countless hours taking standardized tests from about the time they were in 5th grade.

I understand why districts use high-stakes testing: High stakes testing is an easy, cost-effective and fair way to show what students have learned.  Are the results always accurate?  No. Do educators always draw the correct conclusions from testing data? Definitely not. Is it fair to tie teacher performance to student performance on the test?  No again, but that doesn’t make them completely useless.

Theoretically, every student in every classroom in every school in every city in the state takes the test under identical conditions. This way the state can be sure that student scores are indicative of student knowledge and not dependent upon the circumstances in which they tested. In order to maintain consistency in the testing environment from school to school, the state publishes an entire book on required procedures for state testing. Ironically, these procedures that are established to make the tests as fair as possible are what make the entire experience so unbearable for teachers and students.

The procedures are THE WORST. 

Students sit in rows of desks, bubbling in answers on answer sheets.  That’s no fun for them, but it’s torture for a teacher.  You, the teacher, have to stand there and watch the students test.  You can’t sit at your desk, you can’t read anything, you can’t grade papers, you can’t work on lesson plans. You CAN stand and occasionally walk around the room. You can perch on the edge of a chair. You can stare at students while they test. You can glance at the clock every 5 minutes or so. You can rearrange items on the desk of whoever’s room you happen to be in during the test because you're probably not in your own. You can “actively monitor.” All of this to prevent the possibility of any “irregularities” in the testing conditions.

Anything that might disrupt the testing environment can be considered an “irregularity.”  Does someone knock on your door?  Irregularity.  A student sits up and asks a question?  That’s an irregularity.  Discipline problem when you try to keep people from napping?  Big time irregularity.  The worst thing about “irregularities” is that if someone decides the disruption was “irregular enough,” that entire group of students may have their scores thrown out.  Then they have to take the test again.  And guess who’ll have to actively monitor that new test session?

Bathrooms and hallways need monitoring as well.  Students are only allowed to go to the bathroom one at a time.  If the line is particularly long, two students can go to the restroom, but a teacher has to stand in there and make sure they don’t talk.  This is to keep them from discussing the test or possibly cheating.  Teachers also have to “monitor” the hallways and make sure no one smiles, and no one laughs. Skipping in the halls is expressly forbidden. There must be no joy on test day.

In Texas, the STAAR test is timed and runs four hours long.  That’s a huge improvement from TAKS, which had unlimited time.  Students could actually stay at the school all day long, because teachers weren’t allowed to push students to finish.  I remember times when some administrators and teachers stayed at school until 7 pm in order to let a student finish the test.  Often students would take advantage of the unlimited time to put their heads down, even nap, knowing that they weren’t under any pressure to finish.  Teachers were told later that students were not allowed to sleep, but try enforcing that when you want to fall asleep yourself.

If anyone has it worse than the kids sitting in the desks or the teachers perched on the edge of a hard chair, it’s those poor saps in Austin.  They have to read thousands and thousands of student essays, chronicling what students have learned about “success” in their 15 years of life.